A Madera County Superior Court judge has halted implementation of a sizable, $246 per acre fee on
The per-acre charge on Madera County farmers and landowners is part of the county’s implementation of the sweeping Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) through the Madera County Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA).
Farmers within the Madera and Delta-Mendota Subbasin of the GSA were due to be assessed $246 per acre to implement the GSA’s yet-to-be-approved Groundwater Sustainability Plan.
Farmers within the GSA’s Chowchilla Subbasin rejected the fee during an earlier Proposition 218 protest vote and have led a revolt against the sizable fee.
Opponents of the tax assessment have largely contended that Madera County improperly disguised it as a fee rather than a tax, which is subject to stricter and higher thresholds for approval under the state initiative.
Without judicial intervention, Madera County farmers would be required to pay the fee effective Dec. 12.
Water Wrights reports from Madera County on a pre-trial hearing on the issue:
Judge [D. Lynn] Collet heard arguments for and against issuing the preliminary injunction. Arguments were from Patrick Gorman, the attorney representing the Valley Groundwater Coalition, and Michael Linden, the attorney for Madera County.
Gorman and Linden went back and forth regarding Proposition 218, statutes of limitations, the status of Madera County GSA projects, various code sections and other arguments. Judge Collet had detailed and thoughtful questions for both sides. Judge Collet said she would need to review one of the cases cited. It was decided that the hearing would reconvene at 3:15 PM for her decision. At 3:15 PM the court reconvened. In deciding whether or not to grant the preliminary injunction, the court looked at the threat of irreparable harm to the plaintiffs versus the threat of harm the injunction would cause the County. Judge Collet decided to issue the preliminary injunction.
Yesterday was a win for the farmers and for the Valley Groundwater Coalition. This matter will be further litigated, but for now, the farmers in the Madera County GSA will not have to pay the $246 per acre GSP Project Fee portion of their 2022-2023 property taxes.